27th May 2020: Some notes on drawing, samplers and scale

So I’ve spent the last few days drawing and stitching small samples.

What I found myself doing is automatically reaching for my iPad when I want to draw. I’ve got really comfortable using it for sketching and scribbling and design work. There is something about the digital canvas that I find far less intimidating than a blank sheet of paper. I’m not sure I would use it for life drawing, I think the fixed scale of the piece of paper is ideal for observational drawing and zooming in and out on the iPad I think would throw me. I’ve also noticed I’m developing a preference for mechanical pencils when doing close observational drawing, such as the cherry blossoms, perhaps it just lends itself to the small delicate scale of these!

The flexibility of working on a digital surface I’m finding to be seamless for getting my sketches down quickly. I can drop in photos, trace layers, duplicate things, change the scale – all things I do in physical drawing but as a much faster pace (And I don’t have to print things off, scale by hand etc.). This is not to say I’m abandoning physical drawing, as I’ve said before, the textures and happy accidents are too important, but this new digital drawing tool has got me drawing a lot more!

This got me thinking about observational drawing and tracing from photographs. I think there is an idea, certainly one I shared, that tracing from photographs was somehow “less worthy” than observational drawing. I certainly find the act of drawing something to be more about ‘close looking’ – drawing as a way to closely observe a thing. I always thought of tracing something as not engaging in this close observation, but it was during tracing photos of a cherry blossoms that I actually found myself getting a feel for how the flowers are formed – repeatedly tracing from slightly fuzzy photos meant I found myself having to think about how I understood the form of the petals, leaves and stamens and how the flowers bunched, folders and overlapped against each other.

This general understanding of the shape and form of the blossom allows me to think about how I would use it as an embroidery motif. I began to sketch stylised cherry blossom forms and this got me thinking about how the floral motifs of the historic Blackwork are almost abstract shapes and about how these were (probably) copied from pattern books. I wondered what sort of relationship my acts of tracing, copying and stylising has to these original pattern books (I really need to see some!!). It feels like here I am extending and combining what may have been distinct roles of pattern designer, drawer and embroiderer – though I’m not certain to what extent these roles were actually separated, I’ve read about them being distinct roles but also that the embroiderer of this period did create their own designs – more research is needed!

iPad drawing: cherry blossom forms as design motif and a stylised rendering of a photo trace

A final note on digital drawing – it gives me tools to control line weight, smoothness and ‘snap’ – meaning drawing with these mixes what would have been, in my past way of working, separate design techniques. Drawing directly onto the tablet allows me to combine two ways of working into a ‘hybrid’ drawing technique – giving me the expressive quality of hand drawing and the precision and control of design software in a single space. The ability to duplicate and scale is also proving to be really useful – I’m not explaining this very well! Perhaps I should make some videos of the different ways of drawing? NOTE: the ability to record my screen while using the tablet is brilliant!

iPad drawing screen recording (x2 speed)

I have also been making small samplers for my embroidery ‘scratchpad’, trying different combinations of fabric and thread, seeing how they behave and how the scale of the weave affects the stitch lines and pattern. This got me thinking about the embroidery sample as an object, may not with the intention of display but as a private reference and a place to test and practice. There is something here about the idea of a sample of being a sketchbook for the embroiderer….


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